Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Bird scratch fever
"Do you like birds?"
The question seemed innocent enough. I looked up from the pet store bird cage I'd been peering into, wondering who was talking to me.
It was a boy of about 14 years of age, leaning against a door that lead into a glassed-in bird room. He was tall for his age and very stocky. I quickly sized him up as the kind of kid who must endure regular playground beatings. Stretched-out t-shirt, saggy shorts, easily triggered flinch response.
"Yeah," I answered, not sure if that response was really true, but what the hell. I was just killing time in the bird aisle while my friend bought her bunny a bag of kibbles and bits.
"OK, well," he continued, "I want you to help me with an experiment. Will you?"
"Um, what is the experiment?" I queried, walking towards him.
"I want to see if I can get this bird to kiss you. Is that OK with you?"
I gazed into his puffy, moon-shaped face and noticed a series of pale pink scratch marks scattered about his cheeks and forehead. I had to wonder, was this evidence of past failed bird kiss experiments?
Despite my hesitation to participate, I did follow him into the glass room to look at the bird in question.
"C'mon," the boy said. "It's easy."
"No, thanks. But I'll watch you try it on yourself."
He declined to be the subject of his own experiment. Funny, that.
"It's OK. I volunteer at the zoo. I know what I'm doing," he reassured me.
"Do you want to make a living at it when you grow up?"
"I already make a living at it," he bragged, shrugging his shoulders for emphasis, then confessed: "Actually, I only volunteer. I'm too young to get paid."
"That's cool," I drawled, watching him bob nervously from foot to foot like an overmatched welterweight.
"Have you ever seen the bird show at the city zoo?" the boy asked. "You know how they get that bird to fly in circles at the end of the show? Well, I'm not supposed to tell you this, but we trim his wings a certain way so he can only fly in circles."
He looked down quickly at the linoleum floor, as if embarassed by his torrid admission, and then slipped out the glass door. Bird boy had flown the coop.